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October 18 2010


BookBrewer Makes Major Self-Publishing Deal with Borders

This has been one of the most amazing, rewarding and surreal weeks of my life.

Borders has chosen BookBrewer -- the first product of my startup, FeedBrewer, which grew out of a News Challenge grant -- to power the engine for its e-book self-publishing service. You can read about our partnership in the official press release, or in media coverage from a variety of sources including Fast Company, Publishers Weekly and PC Magazine.


We made the announcement at BlogWorld Expo, one of the largest confabs of bloggers and new media enthusiasts in
the world. The response at our booth was enormous and even overwhelming
at times, with people lined up to talk to me, my team and Borders' e-book manager Kelly Peterson about how they can turn their content into sellable e-books. Their response is not surprising, given the explosive growth in e-book sales in recent months.

About BookBrewer

So what is BookBrewer? It's a web-based tool that helps you turn content from your blog, or Word or PDF documents on your computer, into e-books that can be sold on your through multiple online e-book stores, own through your own website. After importing your blog, you then add posts and organize them into chapters, edit and enhance content, and push a button. BookBrewer then turns your content into an e-pub that most e-book stores require. You can pay one fee to have it published to e-book stores we work with, or another fee to just get the file to do with as you wish.

This video shows how it works:

BookBrewer Help: Building Your Book from Dan Pacheco on Vimeo.

Some highlights on our partnership with Borders:

  • On October 25 the same technology and user experience will be surfaced on a separate site called "Borders Get Published, Powered by BookBrewer." You can enter your email address on the form on Borders.bookbrewer.com to be notified as soon as the service launches.
  • Books published through both BookBrewer and Borders Get Published will be available for purchase on Borders.com and viewable in Borders-branded apps (such as Kobo), but will also appear in other eBook stores that BookBrewer has relationships with. Those include Amazon.com and KoboBooks.com, with more on the way.
  • Borders will use its marketing muscle to encourage thousands of new authors to get published, and will promote promising new authors in its weekly emails and on its website. This is a huge boon for self-published authors because Borders reaches more than 30 million people per week in emails alone.

Our booth team, from left to right: Todd Levy, Laurelie Ezra, Kelly Peterson, Dan Pacheco.

BookBrewer, which only launched last week, will operate as its own entity. We will serve customers through both sites and will roll out more strategic "Powered By BookBrewer" services throughout the year that benefit our company and partners, in addition to other services for authors and content providers. With one of the largest bookstores in the world on board, we're now shifting our focus to companies with content or content relationships.

Given my news background, I know that a lot of newspapers and magazines have "evergreen" packages or investigative reports that would stand the test of time as e-books. I will be reaching out to some of you about that at the Online News Association conference later this month. And you freelancers/entrepreneurial journalists out there? This is a fantastic opportunity to pay for freight while also building your brand.

Borders' Open Publishing Stance

Some people are surprised that Borders would want "their" e-books to show up in competitors' stores, but it makes sense when you think about  the self-publishing customer. They want their content to be everywhere  that people want to buy it.

I can tell you from spending two days in a booth with Kelly Peterson and talking extensively with others at Borders that they're one of the  most customer-focused companies around. They understand that authors -- a category that now potentially includes each and every one of  you -- don't want their content to be defined or confined based on which service or programs they use to create it. The customer always comes first for them, and with self-publishing the book always belongs to the author.

I heard Kelly put it this way: "If you buy a piece of clothing at a store, you expect to be able to wear it everywhere, not just in the store where you bought it." You can see that evidenced with the wide variety of e-book readers and apps Borders promotes, beyond the Kobo reader the company invested in last year.

I'm also excited to work with Borders because they, and bookstores in general, are part of the fabric of local communities -- that rapidly disappearing third place that has been so important in the history of civil life. Other types of third spaces exist online, but at a local level physical meeting spaces are still important. Digital community engagement is the common thread  in my most meaningful endeavors (Bakotopia, Printcasting and AOL Hometown as just a few examples), and as a previous recipient of a Knight News Challenge grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation I'm a proud  public champion of helping the news and information needs of communities in the digital age. I see BookBrewer and Borders Get Published being strongly connected to those goals.

No Man is an Island

On that note, I want to once again thank the Knight Foundation for its role in the Printcasting project, which evolved into my company FeedBrewer, Inc., from which the Knight Foundation will one day benefit thanks to a voluntary 6 percent gift to the Knight Media Innovation Fund. While the Knight  Foundation didn't provide any funding for our proudly "bootstrapped" BookBrewer (and we did not ask for any), BookBrewer is an example of how non-profit seed funds can light a spark that continues to burn later.

It's my sincere hope that future successes from BookBrewer will go to help fund other startups that help local news and information.

The technology for BookBrewer is all new and distinct from Printcasting, but the thinking, methodology and customer insights evolved from it. In fact, thinking back, the biggest thing we learned from Printcasting was that even first-time print publishers really wanted to be multi-platform digital publishers. They just didn't know that until they got their feet wet. In the space of a few weeks after publishing a PDF magazine, they would start asking us if they could publish the same stories into Facebook or as a blog, and they would tell us that they saw print as only a small part of their future business.

They also started asking about e-books as the Kindle and, later, iPad grew in popularity.

The feedback we're getting with e-books validates that. People occasionally ask us if we can provide print-on-demand paperbacks for their books, but when we say we're currently focused on digital books they're fine with that. Most just want to make sure older readers who don't have e-reading devices, iPhones or iPads to have a print option. (And we will be looking into that, by the way).

What I've learned through this process is that when you have an idea that you're passionate about, people will step in at the last minute to help you out. I think the BookBrewer product engenders a desire to reciprocate after authors see how much it can do for them. We even had the leader of a writer's group in Florida buy an ad in a conference program for BookBrewer with her own funds -- a first in my 15 years of working on digital products.

I also want to thank Jon Nordmark, the co-founder of Wambo.com and founder and former CEO of Denver-based eBags. He facilitated Denver's inaugural class for Adeo Ressi's Founder Institute, an intensive technology and mentoring program. For four months, I would spend every Tuesday night from 5:30 to 9 p.m. with him, other startup CEO mentors, and founders of 17 other companies. We would sound ideas off each other, refine them, give and receive brutal feedback, and delve deeply into the business behind our businesses. While I had a lot of ideas before, I can safely say that without the Founder Institute program I never would have been able to create this product at this time and get it in front of Borders. Nordmark also helped with the Borders introduction.

Fellow Founder Institute graduate Todd Levy, co-founder of BloomWorlds, and his girlfriend Laurelie Lee Ezra also stepped in at the last minute to man our BlogWorld Expo booth and talked to hundreds of people about BookBrewer as if it was their product. I will never forget that, and can't wait to talk more about BloomWorlds once it launches.

Then of course there's Don Hajicek and Andy Lasda, my amazing team of co-founders, who have worked tirelessly on this alongside me with no pay other than generous equity. You learn a lot about people when you're down in the trenches with them, and these two are solid. In addition to their incredible development and product design skills, they've shown incredible faith and dedication. And a big thank-you to our advisors, especially Kit Seeborg from BumperTunes.

Last but not least, there's my family. My wife Kendall Slee and two daughters have given up many nights and weekends with me, and also helped with ideas and feedback. (My 7-year-old Lauren even published an e-book that was for sale in Amazon, and she's now perfecting a second edition.) My mom and dad even pitched in at the end to handle the logistics of ordering last-minute t-shirts for our BlogWorld booth.

Start Brewing Your e-book!

...But I guess you should expect that from a community-focused product. BookBrewer is and will continue to successful thanks to the community of people behind it. Hopefully that also includes you. Start brewing your e-books so we can help you get published and featured by Borders!

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June 21 2010


FeedBrewer Pays It Forward to Knight Media Innovation Fund

Last week at MIT's annual Future of News and Civic Media conference, I stood on the stage with Knight Foundation CEO Alberto Ibargüen and made an announcement.

FeedBrewer Inc., a new company I co-founded with two other Printcasting team members, is donating 6 percent of its corporate stock to a brand new Knight Media Innovation Fund. Our hope is that our future success can also enable success for others who, just as we did with the Knight News Challenge, will receive grants that allow them to create new innovative media tools and programs. You can read more about our company and the donation on our site and at the Knight Foundation blog.

After the announcement, I got two reactions from conference participants. The dominant reaction was very positive: "Way to go!" "You did the right thing!" "That's awesome."

But there was also another, more pragmatic reaction. A few asked me point blank, "What are you getting out of this?" "Is there any new funding attached?" "What motivated you to do something you didn't have to do?"

What Are Your Values?

The second question is the more interesting one, because I think it speaks directly to the real value the Knight Foundation has created through four years of the Knight News Challenge. this value has nothing to do with money. But just to be clear, the answer is that no, there is no new funding attached to this donation (which would make it a purchase versus a donation), and there is no tangible, quid pro quo benefit.

But we feel we are definitely getting something out of this. We're showing with our actions that we want to remain a partner with the Knight Foundation and its community of media entrepreneurs in writing the story of innovation -- whether or not they're writing us more checks.

Empowering Publishers, and Future Innovators

Just as we've used Printcasting to empower new local publishers, and will use FeedBrewer to expand that mission to mobile and eBook publishers, we hope that we can one day say that FeedBrewer's financial success helped empower new innovators. And in the spirit of open source, we also know we may benefit from their contributions just as they may with ours (Printcasting code was open sourced on Drupal.org this month).

I think this is a really important thing for future media entrepreneurs to understand, because ultimately it comes down to values.

I've been going through a tech entrepreneur training and mentoring program called The Founder Institute in Denver, and every Tuesday night we hear presentations from successful CEOs and entrepreneurs. I was struck by what Bruce Dines, a principal at venture capital firm Liberty Global Ventures, recently told us.

"What is your culture, and what are your values? Make sure your behavior is consistent with your values," he said. "You are building a corporate identity that is consistent with your brand. Everything impacts your brand. It is a precious thing that can be destroyed in a minute."

I found it interesting that this was coming from someone who manages an investment portfolio for the purpose of getting a hefty financial return, which for VCs is typically five to 10 times their initial investment. What this says is that values are important even in the context of making money, and that bad values can hurt your bottom line.

I wish more newspapers had paid heed to this over the last 20 years. Falling circulations led many to capitulate on core values -- for example, the now widespread practice of charging for obituaries that were previously seen as a core community service. Values and brands are tightly connected, and once you lose your brand, you're toast.

How Equity Works in Incubators

I'm learning a lot of great lessons through the Founder Institute, just as I did through the Knight News Challenge. The Founder Institute also has its own "pay it forward" concept. If I proceed to graduation in two months, I and my board will sign a document giving the institute a warrant to take 3.5 percent of FeedBrewer stock in the event that we receive significant future funding.

That isn't unique to the Founder Institute. Most tech incubators, such as Y Combinator and TechStars, require some sort of equity in exchange for funding, training and connections. However, the Founder Institute is unique in that every graduate also shares in a pool from that 3.5 percent.

Up until very recently, the Knight Foundation required nothing in terms of equity, etc. in return for the grants it gave out, but it is moving in that direction with the Knight Media Innovation Fund. I think that's a good thing, so I'm glad to support it up front with this first, non-mandatory equity donation.

FeedBrewer's Road Ahead

So what's ahead for us with FeedBrewer? Riches? Fame? Glory? Not initially, if ever, but there will be a lot of hard work as we strive to achieve our vision for simple multi-platform publishing solutions. And if we succeed in that vision, whatever else comes after is icing on the cake. We're running a startup because we think we can do a better job achieving our vision than if we were operating in a large company, not because we anticipate an immediate windfall.

The other thing I've learned through the Founder Institute is that I am a hair short of insanity for starting a new business. My co-founders and I are already bootstrapping our path to the future, taking on consulting projects that leverage our expertise while keeping a percentage of our time free to work on our own concepts (such as BookBrewer -- more on that later!)

Contrary to what you may think, the vast majority of startups do not attract enormous multi-million dollar investments or acquisitions. They work project by project, sale by sale, and some result in sustainable businesses. (Shameless plug: yes, we have room for more consulting projects. Learn more about that here).

The Real Value of the Knight News Challenge

The bottom line is that without the Knight Foundation's support, I would never have had the time to study and learn what I have through Printcasting, and FeedBrewer simply wouldn't have been possible due to lack of confidence. I also wouldn't have had the opportunity to share my thoughts with the large audience that this Knight-funded Idea Lab blog provides, or present my wacky ideas at countless conferences around the world. And I doubt I would have had the honor and privilege to be part of such a fun and inspiring Knight News Challenge community.

So I want to thank the Knight Foundation and its late creator John S. Knight -- who it turns out shared my birthday -- and all of the innovators past, present and future that emerged as part of his legacy. That community is the real value of the Knight News Challenge. I'm looking forward to seeing more projects pay it forward like we have done.

April 20 2010


Printcasting Plans Mobile Expansion With FeedBrewer

About two years ago, I wrote up an idea for how to leverage standardized web content to create locally-targeted publications with less time, money and software than ever before. The technology and content would be digital, but the output would be optimized for physical distribution as printable PDF magazines. That concept became Printcasting and it earned us a Knight News Challenge grant.

We're still extremely busy with Printcasting and are working on multiple tracks over the next six weeks before our grant ends. We're finishing up version 2.0 of the Printcasting system on Drupal 6 and preparing to open-source everything, including the Drupal 5 version that powers the existing site. And we're also helping partners, such as Temple University's Philadelphia Neighborhoods in Philadelphia, which just printed 500 copies of its Printcasts and distributed them to the urban neighborhoods it serves. (Read more about what they're up to here). Here's a picture of PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods co-directors Linn Washington and Christopher Harper proudly displaying their first print editions.

PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods.com Printcasts

But we're also planning ahead for what comes after Printcasting. So today, I'm very excited to announce the formation of a new for-profit company and future product called FeedBrewer.


We're starting FeedBrewer out with a small bootstrap team, with me as President/CEO and Product Manager, Printcasting designer Don Hajicek as the COO, and Drupal developer Andy Lasda as CTO. Learn more about FeedBrewer and its mission on our site.

In addition to maintaining the free Printcasting.com service, which has been acquired from The Bakersfield Californian by FeedBrewer Inc. in exchange for an equity stake, FeedBrewer will expand Printcasting's democratized-publishing approach to apply to more than just print. We'll be adding additional outputs for smartphones, starting with the iPhone and Blackberry, and tablet computers, including Apple's new iPad.

The FeedBrewer Approach

FeedBrewer is a publishing approach that works with almost any standards-based online publishing system. It can best be described as Publish Once, Distribute Everywhere:

What exactly does that mean? Here's what we say on the FeedBrewer.com home page.

"FeedBrewer is a one-stop shop for designing, publishing and distributing your content on multiple platforms -- including e-readers, mobile devices, e-mail and printable PDF magazines. You can even use it to redesign parts of your existing website. You don't need to change how you publish content now to use FeedBrewer. Simply provide the RSS feed from your blogging tool or content management system, choose a design scheme, and we'll do the rest."

In other words, by simply providing an RSS feed and checking off some boxes for the outputs you want, FeedBrewer will let anyone become a multi-platform publisher in just five minutes.

Rethinking Print as Mobile Content

Sounds a lot like Printcasting, doesn't it? It should, because we're simply expanding the concept of print publishing to portable publishing. In our new thinking, printable content is subsumed under the mobile meme. That may sound like a stretch to some, but it makes sense if you think of print as the original mobile / portable format.

A Printcast on the iPad. In addition, Printcasts already work on mobile devices that display PDFS, such as the iPhone and iPad. They're purely digital products that exist solely in The Cloud up until someone decides to send them to a printer or view them on a mobile device.

To prove this point, here's a picture of a Printcast on an iPad, which I brought up by going to Printcasting.com, clicking into a microsite, and clicking a "Download PDF" button. You have the same experience whether you look at the publication on a tablet like this, or by reading it on paper.

FeedBrewer will use many of the same Drupal modules we created for Printcasting for feed aggregation and designed output. We will simply build additional FeedBrewer modules that can plug into a basic Printcasting installation that will enable output for different mobile devices.

The fact that we can do this speaks to the highly-structured nature of the new Printcasting 2.0 system on Drupal 6 which, once open-sourced, will be able to be used by anyone in this way. We know that we will be one of many different parties using the opens-source Printcasting tools, and as the maintainer of those modules we look forward to seeing what other developers can do with them.

Our Business Model

Since FeedBrewer will be for-profit and no longer grant-funded, its business model will rely on paid services. Starting June 1, we will begin building customized installations of Printcasting and, eventually, FeedBrewer for premium customers. (Interested parties can send us a note via our contact page). But please note that we do plan to continue to maintain free services on Printcasting.com, and eventually FeedBrewer.com. At a future date, we will begin to offer paid upsells for a monthly fee.

This new "software as a service" approach is a departure from our experimental business model for Printcasting, which relied on taking a cut of self-serve advertising revenue. While we will continue to experiment with new advertising revenue models, we see more near-term potential in providing value-added services to publishers who are trying to publish in an increasing number of channels with limited or shrinking resources. They will be able to monetize their publications using their existing ad networks, which is what Printcasting partners have been asking us to do from the beginning.

On the financial front, we are also beginning to reach out to investors. Anyone interested in being a financial partner in FeedBrewer's future can contact us at news@feedbrewer.net, through our contact page.

Looking Ahead, and a Big "Thank You"

What's next? We will begin building out the FeedBrewer tools in June and hope to begin alpha testing this summer. You can enter your e-mail address into this form to be notified as soon as our alpha is ready. And you can stay up to date by subscribing to our blog and Twitter feed.

I would also like to send out a huge Thank You to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, whose initial funding of Printcasting made future things possible -- including our new company, but also many other projects that will use the Printcasting code in the future. We recognize the role that philanthropy played in our development, and while we will operate as a for-profit company we feel our future mission is still very much in line with the goals of the Knight News Challenge. Our objective always has been, and will continue to be, to preserve the news and information function of local communities. Mobile is an increasingly important part of that.

We're also thrilled that we'll still be able to work with The Bakersfield Californian, where I started Printcasting in my previous role as Senior Manager of Digital Products. In addition to being a shareholder in FeedBrewer, the Californian is also signing on as our first paying customer. In my six year as a Californian employee, I've been privileged to be allowed to play a critical role in its evolution from a single-product, print-centric newspaper to a multi-platform cross-media information company. My hope is that through FeedBrewer, we can help them and others in the next big transition to portable "anywhere" content.

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